The story of Miss Rebecca Ng (or, as her friends would call her, ‘Becky’), is a powerful story of a turnaround teacher whose life was turned around by God.
According to Werner and Smith (1989), a ‘turnaround teacher’ is one who is “not just an instructor for academic skills, but also a confidant and positive model for personal identification” (p.162). These turnaround teachers build, in their own personal styles and ways, 3 crucial environmental protective factors for at-risk students: connection, competence, and contribution.
Rebecca definitely fits the bill, having been turned around herself earlier in life.
Once, she was an academically at-risk student with no clear direction in life.
Now, she is an ongoing full-time secondary school teacher where she teaches music and works with at-risk students on the discipline committee.
She also serves as a lay youth pastor in her church and oversees the youth ministry.
Her passion for young people and her contagious joy at work impressed me as someone who has clearly found her calling and mission in life, so I approached her to do an interview and share her story.
What she shared in her interview is nothing short of amazing – the amazing grace of God working in the life of an individual who dedicated herself to impact others with compassion, zest, and quite a bit of fun.
Whether you are a teacher or not, I hope you will find in this interview something that encourages your heart to embrace your life calling with joy and gusto!
The Teacher Journey Begins
Marcus: Let’s hear your story! Can you share your teaching journey with us – how did you get started with teaching?
Rebecca: To be honest, I never thought I would have become a teacher! I wasn’t regular in attending school towards the end of my secondary school years, even skipping some of my GCE ‘O’ level prelim papers. I lived a very crazy life. But I knew I love music and music came so naturally and easily to me.
I really woke up to my senses a month before my ‘O’ levels, when my father was called in for a panel meeting with the school principal and teachers about my poor performance.
With the emergency help of Christian friends (I had just come back to church during that period after leaving the church for almost 4 years), and definitely by the grace of God, I got back on track and did well enough to qualify for a music teacher training scheme.
My teachers were shocked when I came back to school to get my ‘O’ level results – there I was, coming from having no place to go, to having a few really good open doors!
Choosing to be a Teacher
Marcus: I’m sure it was a pleasant kind of ‘shocked’! So, out of these many good open doors, you chose teaching.
Rebecca: Yup. I joined the teaching service because I got to study MUSIC – and they were going to pay for me to study it! There were no other thoughts on my mind. I’m sure my father and relatives were very happy that I was finally getting back ‘on track’.
Although I love studying music, I later realised I love teaching it even more.
Not long after, I realised I love teaching in a secondary school cause I just thrive on drama and crazy things – I was a crazy kid, and handling tough kids was the fun of it.
The first school I taught in was also my alma mater. You can imagine how shocked some of my teachers were to see me back for practicum and finally being posted there as a trained teacher!
I did really well though – I learned a lot, tried many things, and even scored a distinction for my practicum (I was NOT aiming for it definitely, chasing such things had hardly been even me growing up) when I revamped a music curriculum and taught music in a whole different way.
But what makes it worthwhile, is seeing students being able to think through life’s issues, and being nurtured to get back onto the right track.
“But what makes it worthwhile, is seeing students being able to think through life’s issues, and being nurtured to get back onto the right track.”
‘Accidentally’ Walking into the Call to Teach
Marcus: It seems like you’re really called to teach! Was it easy for you to get to this path with such clarity?
Rebecca: If you’re asking whether going into teaching was like following a life plan mapped out neatly for me, the answer is – no. I accidentally walked into it… just by walking with Jesus.
My walk with Jesus wasn’t always a bed of roses. I strayed from the church during my teenage years.
When I returned to the church at 16, I also decided to stop playing around with the world and get right with God (this took me a good few years…).
The more I walk with Jesus, the more I found myself walking into the right places and meeting the right people.
I did not bend on it – I just wanted to get my life right with Him. I was thankful for the graciousness of the church in accepting me back, and to hear the gospel being preached and lived out to me again.
Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, I was dead and now alive again! I was given a new life in Christ – “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17)
Through this, I’ve learned that I WILL walk into the will of God just by walking in the ways of God every day.
“Through this, I’ve learned that I WILL walk into the will of God just by walking in the ways of God every day.”
Beyond Being a Music Teacher
Marcus: Indeed, trusting and obeying God is the foundation of finding out His will for us! Could you also share with us more about the work you are doing in school?
Rebecca: Sure! Initially, I only see myself as a Music teacher. Music was a great starting platform for me – I had an award from MOE to study in England later, and even won a national level award at the young age of 24, so I really believed music was the ONLY work for me.
But God knows better.
It was through teaching music that I realise I was really good at handling students, especially the really hard ones.
After coming to my new school where I am still working now (it’s my 4th year actually already!), I was introduced to work with the discipline committee.
Thankfully, through really good bosses and other teacher colleagues that I learned with, I love my job even more.
I’m now a class mentor (what we call our form teacher) of a Secondary 4 Normal (Technical) class. It is a class that I took since Secondary 1, and this year it is my 4th year together with them!
Seeing these students grow up taught me a lot about being a teacher. I’ve seen them individually go through ups and downs, family issues, having no food on the table, BGR problems, and friendship issues… it’s amazing to see how they grow, rebel, mature, and make better decisions.
Being a Nurturing Form Teacher to the Class
Marcus: Yes, and I can see it from all the motivational posters the class has put up to encourage one another!
Rebecca: I love it too! And I particularly am proud of how, despite many believing that an NT class will be quite problematic, our class actually had ZERO fighting cases in 4 years. They learned how to resolve problems by talking to each other, and over time, I hope I had managed to teach them how to share their hearts out and be there for each other.
One of the most touching moments is when some of them started to bring snacks and food from home to share with the class. We had a ‘breakfast box’ where students can just come and take food every morning. When I told the class that some of the parents of their friends had lost their jobs during the COVID period, they started to ‘feed their classmates’ by bringing food from their own homes. And it’s amazing how those who give are usually those who need too!
The Turnaround Teacher Helping Students Turnaround
Marcus: You’re certainly a class mentor I look up to! What other areas of work do you do that involves helping students?
Rebecca: I am also part of a team of teachers that runs a program for at-risk students in school. We call this the GLOW Program. Music has now given me a good platform to touch the lives of these students.
Because – let’s face it – they probably are more willing to share with me during music lessons than at other usual core subjects!
Honestly, compared with Mathematics or Science, I guess Music seems like a more ‘chill subject because it’s not graded and it’s a lot more fun. This gives me the platform to be able to get to know these students at a more personal level. I can have conversations with them and help them build their self-confidence.
Marcus: Were you always so natural with students?
Rebecca: I was made a ‘people person’ since young – but I wasn’t always a nice one. There were more counts of me being mean and unkind to others when I was growing up. I negatively influenced others and even bullied, manipulated and lied to my peers. I knew many looked up to me but it was out of fear, so there’s nothing good about that. It was all about me.
As I grew in Christ, I guess I learned how to steward my gifts of speaking and influence in a good way. It was no longer to destroy others so that I can have my way, but I used it to build and put belief in others again. It was about loving others the way God does.
Then I became natural with students. 🙂
“…I learned how to steward my gifts of speaking and influence …to build and put belief in others again. It was about loving others the way God does.”
Key Influences in Life
Marcus: What were the key influences in your life?
Rebecca: I think my family and past leaders (pastors and those who led me when I was a teenager) were huge influences in my life.
I was not an easy teenager – their patience, grace and hard truths really got me on the right path each time.
It showed me how much they cared for my character more than just making me comfortable.
My uncles, dad and mom are incredibly generous people.
My uncles model a great life of doing big things for God, both in ministry and in the secular world. It encourages me that this is possible.
My lead pastor in church was instrumental in pointing some key directions in my life. I’m really grateful for that!
If not, I would have become a miserable engineer by now. Not that it’s bad, but I would not have dared to pursue music, let alone teaching.
“…They cared for my character more than just making me comfortable.”
A God-shaped Approach and Attitude to Work
Marcus: How does your walk with God shape your approach and attitude to work?
Rebecca: My walk with God is EVERYTHING. It totally defines my approach and attitude at work as a teacher.
(Of course, I must say I really do have a lot to learn – I’ve only been working in MOE for 8 years!)
In my work with God, I’ve learned to be humble and helpful. This double H is super important!
First, being humble. It’s about recognizing that I have had many good opportunities when I was working in my early 20’s. I know that it was possible because of open doors and God’s favour and kindness upon me.
This sense of humility flows out of a grateful heart toward what Jesus has done for me, and because of that – I can’t help but want to be excellent in all I do!
Second, being helpful. At work, I try to reach out to my teacher colleagues who are also having a hard time managing their workload. I do what I can to make their job easier.
When I do a good job, others get the blessing from it too! 🙂
Managing Work-Life Balance in the Teacher Journey
Marcus: As a teacher, you certainly have a good sense of work-life balance! How do you manage it?
Rebecca: I’m trying to be strict with boundaries. When I have nothing extra, I will not stay in school – in fact, I will leave right at the dot.
Being well aware that my identity is not my job helps me with this.
I’m also a full-time lay youth pastor and young adults zone leader. I know that if I do not have good boundaries or over-focus on an area, the others will suffer. This also means having good boundaries mentally and emotionally. I do not answer emails/text messages from work after a certain time, unless they are really urgent.
But I’m not perfect, so when I need help, I readily welcome it and ask others for it. This helps me to be a better colleague, daughter, sister, friend, and girlfriend to those around me.
The real reason why it SEEMS like I have a great sense of work-life balance, is because I had to learn the hard way about boundaries.
I used to do a lot, and it led me to burnout about 7 years ago.
I served a lot in church, and did major things at work. But the problem was that I was not spending deep time with God.
To go high, we must first go deep.
To go high, we must first go deep
I had to have a major reset in this area.
So now I really treasure a lot of time in His presence (reading the Word or in prayer). Growing in depth helped me to be able to often follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as I am better tuned to Him. This saves me so many hours of blind work.
The power of the Holy Spirit is amazing! There had been countless times when I have been prompted to speak to someone, or to go somewhere, and I will meet the right people or get to do the right thing.
When I follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, I often get into situations that surprised me. I knew it must be God when people go ‘how can this be so coincidental?’ or when I am thankful things come together.
To do big things for God, I must be faithful in walking with God and in the small things.
“To do big things for God, I must be faithful in walking with God and in the small things.”
Words of Advice to Fellow Teachers
Marcus: Any other advice you would like to share with our readers?
Rebecca: For those who are teachers, never underestimate the impact you can make in a student’s life.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life really, especially in this Singapore space. I know – I am so guilty.
But when prompted to, don’t hesitate to slow down and speak with a student, or just listen.
You’ll be surprised what it can deposit into their hearts.
The best way we can be ambassadors of Christ in our schools or in our chaotic world, is to be like Jesus to individuals. We may not be perfect (I know I’m far from it…), but we can do one thing at a time.
“The best way we can be ambassadors of Christ, is to be like Jesus to individuals. We may not be perfect, but we can do one thing at a time.”
Marcus: Thank you so much for your sharing and your time, Rebecca! You are such an inspiration to us all!
This is an Interview post on EmbraceOurCalling.com. Check out the other interviews and be inspired by how they serve God with their vocation, their ministry, their relationships, and their time!